Getting into the charity sector: Summary of panel event

This is the third post in our 5-part mini-series summarising the Public Affairs and Community Engagement (PACE) Panel event we held on 11thMarch 2015.  Other posts in the series can be viewed by clicking on the ‘PACE Event’ tag at the bottom of this post.

What is the charity sector?

This sector is made up of not-for-profit organisations which set out to provide help or support for those in need; to benefit society, specific groups or individuals. The sector may also be referred to as the voluntary, not-for-profit or the third sector.  Note, however, that ‘third sector’ is more of an umbrella term which also encompasses non-governmental organisations, co-operatives, social enterprises and more.

According to the NCO Voluntary Sector Almanac, over 800,000 people were employed in charities at the end of 2012. This compares to 7.1 million employed in the public sector and 21.5 million employed in the private sector in the same period.

The panel was made up of representatives from Fixers, Groundwork, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Charityworks.

Range of roles and typical entry points

The sector is diverse, as are the range of roles within it.  These will vary from hands-on, often specialist, roles such as service delivery, to support roles such fundraising, management and campaigning. As in other sectors, people will also be employed in a whole range of other functions such as marketing, finance, human resources, IT and so on.

Previous relevant experience is pretty much essential in order to secure paid employment in the charity sector.  For entry-level roles, this will usually have been gained through previous voluntary work.  For other roles, particularly those in areas such as finance, marketing, recruitment and so on, professionals might move into the charity sector from the public or private sector after they have developed experience.

Charityworks is a paid, direct-entry graduate scheme covering a range of different organisations in the charity sector and is currently the only such scheme in the UK.

Skills and experience needed

An experience and understanding of the sector and of issues relating to the specific charity of interest are essential in order to compete for paid positions.  This will generally be gained through voluntary experience.  Volunteers make up an essential part of the workforce in this sector and paid positions are limited.  Most charities will want to prioritise their – usually limited – funds to support their cause rather than salary a large staff base.

Undertaking voluntary work not only provides you with essential experience but also provides a good insight into the sector and will enable you to see if it is something you really wish to pursue.  As with any employer, charities will also be looking for evidence of your interest in and passion for their cause.

In addition to these general points, role-specific skills and/ or experience will be sought depending on the role for which you are applying.

General tips and advice

Volunteer part-time

The charity sector is extremely competitive when it comes to paid, permanent positions simply due to the small number available.  End salaries are also relatively low compared to other sectors.  A lot of time will be spent volunteering, however, many voluntary positions will be part-time or limited hours so it is possible to gain substantial experience while still working in another paid role to support yourself.  Organisations which require volunteers are under no illusion that people cannot work full time for free!  Some organisations will offer internships (usually unpaid), but again, they may only be part-time allowing for another part time role to support.  Travel expenses tend to be paid by the organisations so you are not out of pocket getting to the locations.

Leeds Internship Programme

We work with local charities, among other organisations, to develop paid internships for Leeds students through the Leeds Internship Programme.  These will include undergraduate summer and year in industry internships, usually advertised from January to July, and graduate internships, usually advertised from August onwards.  You can find more information about the Leeds Internship Programme here

Understand the sector

The sector is diverse, both in terms of roles as well as types of organisations.  Charities range from large national or multi-national charities to much smaller organisations of which you might have little awareness.  Knowing your interests within the sector will enable you to research and identify organisations aligned to your interests much more effectively. This in turn will help you understand their issues and challenges and enable you to market yourself more effectively to them.


Due to the fragmented nature of the sector, the ability to network and develop relationships is essential in order to maximise opportunities, identify potential partner organisations and to help the organisation’s cause.

In addition, opportunities in this sector may not be advertised widely, or even at all. Lieran Docherty, Regional Manager at Together Women Project in Leeds commented on why networking is so useful at the Student Education Conference here back in January, which you can see in this post

The representative from Charityworks on this panel also highlighted the value of the network you gain on the Charityworks scheme as a key benefit.

Further information and support

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